'Plummeting' GCSE grades are 'tragedy' for some pupils
A 'record drop' in top-end GCSE grades is necessary adjustment, but disaster for some students
GCSE grades have "plummeted" by a record margin as a result of tougher exams and a surge in early entries, the Daily Telegraph reports.
As students across the UK received their results today it was clear that efforts to lower grades after two decades of rising marks were having an impact. The proportion of test papers awarded at least a C, the grade considered a good pass, was down by 1.3 per cent to 68.1 per cent.
Data released by the Joint Council for Qualifications also showed that the number of pupils getting an A* or A fell by more than one per cent to 21.3 per cent. Elite A* grades were down by 0.5 per cent to 6.8 per cent and the overall pass mark fell for the first time in six years.
The overall result is a "record drop in top-end GCSE grades following marginal declines at A* to C last summer", the Telegraph says.
Saying your gcse's does not matter is irrelevant. Regardless if it matters or not everybody wants to pass.
— Aisha. (@Jade_Alicia1) August 22, 2013
Examiners say one reason grades had fallen this year is the high number of pupils taking exams early. Younger pupils are less likely to gain good marks, they explain.
Other factors affecting this year's grades include tougher science papers, the raising of grade boundaries in maths, tighter checks on teachers' marking of English coursework and penalties for sloppy spelling and grammar.
Writing in the Telegraph, Martin Stephen, the former High Master of St Paul's School in London, says the lower grades were a "big tragedy for many young people".
He was referring to pupils who would have got a "passport C grade" last year, but failed to get one this year because of the tightening of standards.
"It is unfair, but it had to be done," writes Stephen. "The dumbing down of GCSEs was appalling and was devaluing a bad exam even more. It was always going to be cruelly unfair when standards were driven up on the young people who, for no fault of their own, were in the victim cohort."
Writing in The Guardian, Simon Burgess of the University of Bristol says the "continuous rise in attainment in recent years" has many causes. It was partly due to "improved teaching and learning, partly due to strategic behaviour by schools and partly to grade inflation".
As a result, "attempting to put a cap on grades at the current level treats a 'symptom' when we are not even sure that there is a disease," says Burgess.
The tightening of the GCSE system was also criticised by business lobby group the CBI. "The plan to make GCSEs tougher, although necessary, is not an end in itself," it says in a statement posted on its website. "There is a broader debate to be had about how relevant retaining a high-stakes exam at 16 is, when the demand for higher-skills at 18 and above is the critical issue employers face.
"There is a danger that retaining a system predicated on GCSE performance means that schools will feel forced to game the system, wherever the bar is drawn - to the detriment of pupils, teachers and employers." ·